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Little Failure

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  7,060 ratings  ·  1,023 reviews

After three acclaimed novels, Gary Shteyngart turns to memoir in a candid, witty, deeply poignant account of his life so far. Shteyngart shares his American immigrant experience, moving back and forth through time and memory with self-deprecating humor, moving insights, and literary bravado. The result is a resonant story of family and belonging that feels epic and intimat

Kindle Edition, 368 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Random House (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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 ·  7,060 ratings  ·  1,023 reviews

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I. Loved. This. Book.

I loved this book so much that I finished it more than a week ago and I am still mulling it over. How can I write a review of a memoir so funny and brilliant and insightful and emotional and just plain good? My review will never be able to explain everything I admired in Shteyngart's writing. I used more than 50 Post-it flags to mark great passages. How can I share all of that?

I loved this book so much that I have already begged several friends to read it. I pleaded and cajo
Oct 26, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not my cup of borscht..won this in a Goodreads giveaway for (I hope) an honest review.Gary is a decent writer but it behooves no one to write a biography under the age of 40,particularly one as angst-ridden,juvenile,navel-gazing, and transparently attention-seeking as this.Who will like this book: young,neurotic Jewish men, out of the Woody Allen school of humor/thinking, or any New Yorker afraid he/she won't ever get laid,is basically a schmuck at heart and who is still attached by the umbilica ...more
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thanks to Random House for sending me an advance copy. I've read some preliminary reviews on here dismissive of the writer's young age. "How could someone this young write their life story?" After reading this, I have to ask, how could one not? This memoir was filled with the kind of freedom, bravery, and genuineness that reveals itself when we are young and have our whole lives ahead of us.

There are many accounts in this book that would have never made it into a life story written by an aging
My feelings about young Gary are deeply ambivalent. I couldn't make up my mind if he was incredibly funny or incredibly irritating; probably both, a bit like an over-exuberant puppy that entertains with its appealing clumsiness but then widdles on your best Axminster.

Half of it is just my own lack of charity, I suppose, I mean anything that calls itself a Memoir is going to be me, me, me, isn't it? What was I thinking?

There is an essential question around memoir that is thrown into high relief
While reading the book I started writing the review as the memories of a young immigrant unfolded on the pages. I thought it was excellent, experienced, eloquent writing, gracing the valuable hours I spent reading it.

Many hours it turned out to be, for I constantly fell asleep, due to the fact that I was either tired of working physically hard and very long hours for weeks now, or did not have time for a good sitting with the book, or the subject matter turned stale. I was not sure where the bo
(4.5) If, like I have, you’ve enjoyed both fiction and nonfiction by Jonathan Safran Foer and Shalom Auslander (whose Hope: A Tragedy was one of my 2012 favorites), you should love this self-deprecating family memoir from the Russian-born (real name: Igor) American novelist. (Oh the irony that his father repeatedly warned him, “Just don’t write like a self-hating Jew”!)

Shteyngart’s Ukrainian and Belarussian ancestors ended up in Leningrad, where he was raised as the only child of a failed op
Jan 31, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This was my mother's review of this book, and I don't think I could've said it any better than her: "I have never encountered a family which I found more unappealing. The whole bunch. Gary did his best to portray his family as typical Russian, Jewish immigrants and then tried to justify their boorish, cruel, racist, stingy, ungracious behavior. I refuse to believe that all Russian jewish immigrants are like the Shteyngarts. Gary is ridiculous as well even as he completes his psychoanalysis. A us ...more
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Decades too early, this memoir is about the reconciliation of a writer with his immigrant past-- a full-on "acceptance." I loathed the main character to a certain point-- he is trying desperately to "fit in"... an exercise I myself find totally useless (when in doubt, freak 'em out!). But dangnabbit... this is one of our premiere contemporary writers. I am actually kinda glad now that his neomasterpiece "Super Sad True Love Story" did not nab the Pulitzer-- humility being a strong virtue. Why so ...more
May 10, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
By age 40 George Orwell has been a colonial policeman in Burma, a hop picker in England, a patient in a Parisian charity hospital, and a volunteer fighter in the Spanish Civil War. Kurt Vonnegut has been a soldier, a POW, and a father of three who also adopted three of his dead sister's children. Paul Theroux has served in the Peace Corps in Malawi and has taught in Uganda and in Singapore. Therefore, when Orwell, Vonnegut and Theroux write about their lives, it is an interesting read. Gary (an ...more
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If it’s true that every one of us is a book just waiting to be written, then it’s particularly so for Gary Shteyngart. His memoir, Little Failure, should be taught as an example of how memoirs should be written. It’s courageous, poignant, often bitingly funny, entertaining and achingly real. There’s nary a false note in it.

At a surface level, the memoir delves into the challenges of bridging two disparate cultures: the monochromatic country of Soviet Russia and the almost too colorful, let-it-al
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
Another uneven maddening crazy brilliant Shteyngart book, this time a memoir. The tale begins in early childhood in Leningrad, follows the family's emigration to New York, his attendance at an orthodox Jewish school and attempts to Americanize himself, the shock of entering the highly competitive Stuyvesant High School for Math and Science, entry into Oberlin, all the way through to becoming the Shteyngart we basically have today.

I have to say, the first half of this book is beyond priceless. I
Feb 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've tried now three times, and I guess Gary Shteyngart and are just going to have to call it quits for good. I made it through about half of his first novel, the Russian's Debutante's Daughter, before giving up, and I bailed even more quickly on Super Sad True Love Story. But people love these books! The heck's my problem?! I can't quite figure it out--his uneven tone? his ham-fisted sense of humor?--but whatever, I figured maybe, finally, Shteygart writing straight-forwardly about his own life ...more
Leyla Farah
Jan 06, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I kept waiting for this guy to have some sort of epiphany. Some sort of revelation. I kept waiting for him to become better. But he was an annoying little snot at the beginning and he remained an annoying little snot through to the end. Why that experience deserved a book is beyond me.
Rebecca Thieme-baeseman
Rambling first two chapters. Overall repetitive and wordy. I was told it was comparable to David Sedaris which is a huge lie.
Gary Shteyngart is best known for his prolific blurbing; they even did a documentary about it. Few people may know that when he isn’t blurbing books he hasn’t read, he has written a book or three. He has enjoyed critical acclaim from his three books, including winning the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction and being named one of The New Yorker magazine’s “20 under 40″ luminary fiction writers. He now tells the story of Gary Shteyngart, born to Jewis ...more
I don't understand the great reviews this book got. To me it was 349 (!) pages of annoying whining, and excruciating detail about bits of his personal life that were not the least bit interesting. Clearly I am missing something. ...more
Aug 24, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, reviewed
"Little Failure" is an intriguing family memoir and coming of age story authored by Gary Shteyngart (GS); he writes about his Russian Jewish upbringing, leaving the USSR in 1978 and immigrating to the US, where his parents settled in Little Neck, Queens, NY. He writes about attending a prestigious Jewish high school, and Oberlin College, where his parents didn't fully understand his decision to become a writer instead of a lawyer. A trip in 2011 to St. Petersburg with his parents would uncover u ...more
Jan 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes the right book comes along at just the right time. Last week, after a couple personal setbacks that caused more disappointment than they really warranted, I was in search of perspective. I found it in a double cheeseburger and Gary Shteyngart's hilarious and poignant memoir. My research has shown the combination of a good book and a cholesterol bump to be nearly 100% effective at reversing bad moods.

Shteyngart was born Igor, not Gary, in the former Soviet Union. He recounts his childh
Kressel Housman
Reading this book was like reading my own life in a parallel universe. For part of his childhood, author Gary Shteyngart lived mere blocks from where I was growing up, which means we were neighbors for those years because he is only four years younger than I am. He also had the education I’ve always wished for myself: a Hebrew elementary school (right across from where I took piano lessons) and Stuyvesant High School (where my best friend went, leaving me desperately lonely in ninth grade). Now ...more
I'll start with a disclaimer. Even though I read memoirs more than any other form of non-fiction, I don't like them as much as I would like to. Mostly they're rose tinted, or they're the opposite. In any case, the idea is that I can't objectively write a review for someone's account of their life.

That said, Little Failure is ideal. It's somewhere in between. Shteyngart portrays himself as a jerk of the highest order, but a product of his dysfunctional family. (What a family! And what a waste it
Lubinka Dimitrova
3,5 stars, but I'll round it up to 4 thanks to the nostalgia this book woke in me. ...more
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir, 2014
The goal of politics is to make us children. The more heinous the system the more this is true. The Soviet system worked best when its adults -- its men, in particular -- were welcomed to stay at the emotional level of not-particularly-advanced teenagers. Often at a dinner table, a male Homo sovietcus will say something uncouth, hurtful, disgusting because this is the teenager's right and prerogative, this is what the system has raised him to be, and his wife will say, Da tishe! -- Be quiet! --
A Memoir for the Ages Courtesy of America’s 21st Century Mark Twain

Years before he graduated from our high school alma mater, I met the likes of Gary Shteyngart in the narrow hallways and staircases of that aging, decrepit high school building on East 15th Street; other Garys spending hours smoking pot and drinking beer in the adjoining park named Stuyvesant Square, holding forth on philosophical discussions ranging from Freudian psychoanalysis to a potential nuclear war between the United State
Paul Gleason
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading Little Failure, I'm convinced of what I suspected when I picked up The Russian Debutante's Handbook about a dozen years ago: that Gary Shteyngart is America's greatest living writer of long prose narrative.

Now, the sentence that I just wrote is so clumsy, so badly worded, so BAD, that you'll appreciate Shteyngart all the more when you crack open Little Failure - his first memoir - and start reading its exuberant pages. You won't want to put the book down. But, heck, if you've read
With Gary Shteyngart I tend to be more enthusiastic about the parts than about the overall whole.

I remember reading The Russian Debutante's Handbook, falling all over myself laughing at the first chapter and gradually losing interest as the book progressed. Here too, there were many great moments but unfortunately not as much sustained momentum.

I do love the guy's writing. I love, in spite of myself, the whole angsty Jewish thing even if I find it a bit hackneyed at times. This book reminded me
May 17, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read most of the book, including skipping to the end so I think I got a good feel for it.

I guess I should give Mr. Shteyngart credit for really writing about himself, warts and all, but it was just too many warts for me. I think I asked for Little Failure at my library because I heard an interview with Mr. Shteyngart on NPR. I had not read any of his fiction. I don't plan to now.

Gary Shteyngart immigrated from Russia with his parents when he was a child. The transition was a real shock. He w
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brave, funny (laugh out loud funny) and complex. His portrait of his parents is the centerpiece of this close examination of his childhood with a quicker leap through his 20's and 30's. The focus of his immigrant experience is compelling, revealing and entertaining as well as sad--very sad. It is immediately apparent that Gary's (Russian name was Igor)quest to become fully American and blend in is not going to go smoothly. The reader simply inhales the stories of his relatives, his losses, his e ...more
I should point out that while I'm an unabashed fan of Shteyngart's fiction, I'm also quite hesitant about author memoirs, or anyone's memoirs really, especially in the Facebook age where it seems like we're all confessional, like we're all memoirists. But hey, it was funny enough, although not as funny as his novels. Here's the thing. When we write about our own lives, the amount of misery and darkness (which are, of course, conduits for humor) that we can evince are totally dependent upon the a ...more
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best book I have read all year, without question. While the Family Shteyngart certainly lays claim to their own special type of crazy, coming from an immigrant Jewish family I found aspects of Shteyngart's memoir so familiar it was positively eerie. What is truly remarkable, however, is not his brutally honest, observant analysis of himself and his family, but the tenderness and forgiveness he manages to convey even in his most tragic passages. ...more
Robert Warren
In his 2002 debut novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Gary Shteyngart introduced hapless hero Vladimir, the author's Russian Jewish immigrant doppelganger, nicknamed "Little Failure" by his perpetually disappointed mother. Surely, the nickname is pure fiction. What real-life mother would affix such a moniker to a child, and why? After two more satirical novels, numerous New Yorker essays, thrice-weekly psychoanalysis, and literary celebrity, Shteyngart's new memoir Little Failure reveals tha ...more
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Gary Shteyngart is an American writer born in Leningrad, USSR (he alternately calls it "St. Leningrad" or "St. Leninsburg"). Much of his work is satirical and relies on the invention of elaborately fictitious yet somehow familiar places and times.

His first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002), received the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award.

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